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In the Shadow of Two Mountains

by Martin Nelson

Somewhere in the shadow of two mountains, every Hunter lives. It is a strange place where the inhabitants are bold but most are weak. They want to be strong like us, smart like us, but mostly accepted and bound together, like us. They are more educated and sophisticated but seem to want the experience of everything except sacrifice; which is the difference between us.

The smartest hold their families close and quietly craft rich lives by gathering together the fruit of the land; indifferent to the malicious, who incessantly shout battle cries from their roof tops. The continuous call to arms startle those who have already fought countless battles on their behalf. Together, we three have created a safe, trendy, and bustling little society where the gatherers and protesters know nothing of the evil outside the city walls while the Hunters know nothing of the peace and freedom within.

As time passes, the gatherers have slowly gleaned the fields, leaving nothing behind. In the middle of the night, the sharp eyes of the malicious slowly open and from their perch they abruptly unleash a barrage of pointed words; protesting the inequity of society. The Hunters stir in their beds. Alone they are fighting sleep, fighting in their sleep, until finally they are fighting to sleep. There is no peace. Not even at midnight in their own land.

With a blanket tightly wrapped over sweaty shoulders, a Hunter ventures deeper into the valley. Under a star lit night, the two mountains loom. To the left, the mountains base is inviting and gradually goes vertical. In the Hunters youth, the rocky face was climbed for fun with other young Hunters. Now, the path is more difficult and the trail more treacherous. On these cold nights, the Hunter makes the journey alone, stumbling in the dark. The path has become over grown as the trips become fewer. Thickets that were trodden and beat back in the hunter’s youth, now get revenge by tearing at clothes and flesh as the Hunter passes. With each cut, a memory and each trickle of blood, a face remembered. Some of the thorns stick in the blanket and will provide torment for tomorrow. It’s bittersweet remembering lost hunters, but better to own the pain then to forget a friend. At the trails end, the hunter reaches out to touch the cliff. All the hunters started here, touched these rocks, committed to each other -here. Some went to the top, some climbed for a while and went home and a few fell. Some found trails over the mountains to adventures we will never know, but we all started here. We remain committed here.

Across the valley, the hunter can see the forbidden fires and palaces on the other mountain. It is a decadent land where the tribes thrive with much to eat and abundant comforts. The tribe is said to have left the Hunters own land generations ago, but the Hunter cannot be accepted as a Hunter there. Hunters are disarmed and only welcomed as slaves. As the moon rises, another fire is revealed at the far side of the valley. The Hunter makes his way down the mountain base, through the thickets and rocky paths until the sight of the fire is lost. Guided only by the beat of a drum the hunter creeps through the softening brush. Dew drops roll from tender leaves, slowly soaking the blanket and cloths, but soothing the many cuts and scars. The Hunter presses forward as the music gets louder and familiar voices can be heard.

As the Hunter boldly steps in to the fires warm glow, several of the figures rise. They begin dancing closer, each with a different erratic rhythm. Their faces and scars become visible and they all have blankets riddled with thorns wrapped around their shoulders. Their unique dance steps are products of their unique injuries. They look into each other’s eyes momentarily and know they are all the same. Silently, they return to the fire; the only comfort in the shadow of the two mountains.

Martin Nelson is a retired Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician and their 251st helicopter rescue swimmer, with over 23 years of open water rescue, federal law enforcement and executive security missions.  He writes fiction and non-fiction pertaining to his military experience, as well as technical and grant-seeking documents. A recent cancer survivor and Texas A&M graduate, Martin now resides peacefully in Corpus Christi, Texas, with his wife Veronica and four children: David, Ian, Thomas and Sydney.

The Chair

by Bettye W. Harwell

She sat most days in that chair on the porch. Like everything around, it never really seemed old. It must have been put there on that porch, in the same place by Grancy. Neither she nor the chair would have been young at the time.

It is placed to catch just enough sun and shade. Sitting there, you never get too hot to stopping shelling peas nor too cold to go inside. Each woman of the house shaped that chair. You could feel the tiny form of Grancy. Each generation a bit larger made its own form, blurring the harder edges under them. It took years to mold the seat to fit each larger bottom.

Sitting in the chair, you can, must look up to see the interstate. Its wall dead-ends the street so everybody who passes by speaks. Some come to the steps to look toward the chair. These are the gossipers, salesmen, mostly men with eager eyes. Not so often now, when they learn the girls are grown, living on their own.

The chair stays on the porch. It is smooth and dark, as are the women who sit there. Enough happens in front of them that the newsboy never stops. All the stories are shared more with chair than either lady. It’s like it has been in the same exact spot for over 100 years. One woman sits there as if she has become royalty and the chair is her throne. It will be hers as long as she is able to get up in the morning. 

And the chair now is occupied with the great-granddaughter. She stares over the railing of the porch. A few brown and near-brown children play in the hot, dusty street. It is summer and they come out early. Their parents are asleep. Most count on someone in the chair keeping them quiet. 

A few sharply dressed women head for the dead end which traps all on this street. A path through one unfenced yard is the only escape to the bus stop. Their stride, more plodding than teetering. Their good heels, carefully wrapped in tissue, lie next to their umbrella in oversize handbags. A few have only a shopping bag. These women work as house cleaners, child and health care workers. The factories closed years ago.

The only real sounds are from the flowing rush hour cars above the wall. It is mid-morning before the gawking-eyed men come to the steps with gossip. Who is sleeping with whom? Why the eighteen year old boy at the corner hasn’t been seen? He was in jail for a week before he died. Who is making, selling or using drugs? 

Nothing ruffles the mood in the chair. The rhythm of shelling peas never stops. The stories are always the same. But yesterday was different. Sirens, banging and speed on top of the wall just as sunlight faded. It changed everything. 

For once, the chair was empty for something other than chores or church. No one took her place. The siren and flashing lights lit up the air. A huge SUV tumbled side over side, front over back, end over end down the wall into the dead-end street. 

You could just see the top of a long truck. And parts of cars on top seemed caught in the concrete as the car descended the wall. It drew a crowd because no one ever knew what went right or wrong on top where cars raced at rush hour. In the crowd were the children. A few on bikes. A few mothers with toddlers quickly left the bloody scene. “Bedtime,” they said, gathering them close.

As always the gawking men had started the evening with a few drinks. They ran back and forth as a telegraph service. Women were coming back from work. At first, no one knew what to do. A man, the driver, got out easily. He seemed uneasy facing the crowd and hearing the sirens of police, fire and ambulance. This was going to be a new story.

“Get the chair,” she ordered one of the larger boys. The chair! It had never moved off its spot on the porch for over a hundred years.

Some one was needed to settle the man. Some one to decide what was needed. Others in the car had to be checked until an ambulance could come. It was amazing anyone survived. Then she said to a crowd, “Let us pray.” And they did. 

Suddenly the driver got up out of the chair, confessing his sins to her, sharing how it happened he found himself falling in a large SUV over a wall into their very laps. The police came first. The wrecker cleared most of the SUV except what remained on the wall. An ambulance arrived last. It got lost because ever since the interstate came, the street was an alley. All the people in the car rode out in the ambulance.

She took her chair. She put in its place on the porch as near as she could remember. Then she sat down, as someone always did. She was royalty and the chair was her throne.
Bettye W. Harwell, a 91 year old professional artist, writes when she cannot paint. Online, as “leartisteboots“, she shares her thoughts and poetry. Bettye is the great-niece of Yeoman (F) 3/C Carol Washington (Jetter), US Navy. Carol, one of the “Golden Fourteen”—the first fourteen African American women to serve officially in the armed forces in uniform—enlisted in 1918 and spent the remainder of World War I as a personnel clerk in the Navy Muster Office.

The Reign of the Gunner

by Keith Fosmire

The time is now!
move with the red in your eye.
Hesitation,
not in the S.O.P.
An elaborate dance,
performed with no thought.
Follow me,
and you will get to your treat.

Too far now!
we NEVER RETREAT!
Twenty five hundred times
we practiced this drill.
My men of nine,
with your hollowed eyes
and gritting teeth,
let’s kill this foe
and find some more!

It’s over now!
Collect your treats, Joe,
and place them in their bags.
Send them to their wives,
I can already hear them howl.
I already miss that rhythm,
that rat-tat-tat.
All of this done,
under the reign of the gunner!

Keith Fosmire served in Iraq Doara from 07-09 and Afghanistan Wardak from 2010-2011 with 10th Mountain. 4th BDE 2nd BN, 4th Infantry Division, as a Squad Leader. He has been married for over nine years to his soul mate Alisa, and is currently pursuing a BS in computer science at SUNY Oswego, New York.

Miss Dial

by Ginger Roberts

The first time I became conscious of the entity named Aunt Nicole was on a cross-country trip that involved my mother, my son, Thomas and my dog, Waffle. We had all the time in the world to sample all the nuances of our trip but the destination was always on my mind. I did not want to go back to work after having a month of leave. I did not want to come back to the United States. I did not want to put the boots on and trudge through the muck or answer to anyone for anything. I wanted to enjoy the freedom a little while longer.

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I carry with me

by Adam Stone

I carry with me the weight of the nation, in a helicopter to save the world, provide relief to those in need. Rice and water, bread, Salt. We deliver, we ration.

I carry the tears of the forgotten blood. The grieving mother. The hungry child.

I carry the distant LZ, the optimistic relief. Rotor blades echoing off the land scape, a mantra of life in the shadow of death.

I carry the forgotten, the wounded, the betrayed. The one in the corner afraid to fight.

I carry the family not of blood but of design. The beat of the drummer chanting bring out your dead, bring out your dead, bring out your dead.

I carry secret hearts, of broken dreams. Widows weeping and children crying for loved ones who never return, weeping for those who came back changed.

 

I carry my rifle, my side arm, my chambered round, ready to engage an enemy, not realizing it was pointed at me,

The darkness of humanity, the evil inside, the silhouette-painted country, where fiery eyes pierce through the sky.

Bullets and bandages, to kill and to heal, anyone who crosses my path.

Hemmingway and Thoreau, verses I ascend with into the heavens, the raven never more.

Bruises, Scars, some of mangled form, others seared into the heart, a catalyst of rage

A knife on my hip, a sharpened tongue forged by man or god

Illustrated flesh to remember the fallen, to honor the sacrifice, a constant work in progress

 

Her photograph in my helmet, an altar to life, who I should be, who I once was, who I shall become

 

I carry with me an antiquated religion, who is righteous and who must atone, drawing a line in the sand beckoning us thou shall not kill, thou shall not kill, thou shall not kill,

I carry with me the sins of my father and grandfather, their own wars waged inside of them.

I carry with me the emptiness of a soul, left to rust in a foreign land.

 

I carry the weight of this life, the fighting, the defending. The providing of aid and comfort.

I carry with me, a name I have been given, Infidel, warrior, husband, father

Adam Stone is a 20-year Marine Corps veteran. He has served in multiple locations around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scars

by Timothy L. Jones

His muscles stretched tight, the bow arced, the knuckle of his thumb resting against his cheek. He blew the call again, a quiet grunt, and let it fall from his lips, dangle by the string around his neck. Burning crept from his spine toward his shoulders, up his neck. Jake’s arms began to tremble, but he held fast, concentrated on the beaten path that cut through the trees.

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The Secret of the Widow on the Side of the Road

by Thomas Carnes

She kneels there
Hands out
Eyes crying behind the burqa veil
The widow knows the secret
But she won’t share or tell
She wants us to find out in our own time
The world is not a splash of sepia
Through a small thick bulletproof window pane
It is bright and big with the colors of death and pain
She knows, how well she knows
Every day, no matter how hot
She sits there, her children playing in the deserted desert dying lot
She holds out her hand to every passing caravan
Regardless of who or what
She wants to share her grief, to exchange her pain, to give out her secrets
But we have a secret of our own
One that we take with us, far away, eternal and home
We won’t share it with the widow
We would all just cry
We take our secret on with us
And pass her by.

Thomas Carnes is a medically retired Army captain. He has served in the Army Reserve, on active duty, and in the National Guard. As an enlisted soldier, he was a Blackhawk crew chief, doing time at Fort Polk, Korea and Fort Bragg. He has deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan as a military police officer. Currently he teaches criminal justice at James Madison High School in San Antonio, Texas.

Painting the Room Red

By Lea Baker

Louie was standing on the slick trunk of the fallen tree, gripping Doreen’s screen door for balance, when Brena opened the front door.

“No strangers.”

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Mirrored Eyes

by Eric Hawkins

horned owl on breathless field
feathers charred on twisted wings
eyes reflect   shattered horizon

white-tailed doe under fallen oak
branch impaled through cervix
eyes reflect   shattered fawn

man prone fractured on stone
torso smothered smoked splayed
eyes reflect     shattered dream

vultures swirl on acrid waves as
mortality seeps from natures breast

Eric Hawkins is a disabled veteran. He served ten years as an infantryman/Bradley gunner from 1985 to 1996. He is currently a student at Austin Peay State University and is seeking a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

The Orange Key

by Terry Brunt

“I think I’m going to shit myself,” Clinton sputtered as he tried to escape.

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